Originating in Europe and thought by many to be a Belgian invention Cyclo-cross’s traceable competitive roots actually date back to France in 1902, when a French soldier named Daniel Gousseau is credited with organizing the first French National Championship Cyclo Cross race. After this the sport soon spread into many neighbouring European countries from Belgium to Luxembourg and even as far as Spain, and Italy.
It took 48 years from this first National Championship for the UCI to catch on, but in 1950 the UCI held the first Cyclo Cross World Championships in Paris. The event was won by Frenchman Jean Robic who had previously won the 1947 Tour de France.
More amazingly it took a further 16 years for Belgian to place a stranglehold on the sport and win their first rainbow Jersey. In fact since their first winner in 1966 a Belgian as stood on the top step of the podium no less than 29 easily
The sport of Cyclo-cross is now synonymous with Belgium and nearly as much of an institution as Trappist beer and Frites with mayo. The sport however is now more international than ever and growing at a rapid rate world-wide from the USA to Australia, whilst closer to home the UK scene is mirroring that boom with new leagues popping up. Whilst established leagues are now seeing massive fields across all ages groups in both male and female categories.
The Adalta Cycling Club has had a strong presence in the world of cross for several years now. Early pioneers of the Adalta Cross team Craig Joy and Emma Lewis brought home plenty of silverware individually all whilst supporting and coaching newer members, growing the team substantially with the help of Vet rider John Beggs. This strength in depth was demonstrated in 2016 when Adalta scooped the Ladies Team Championships title with the Men’s team finishing in an impressive second place. Sadly Adalta CX has seen several of its members move onto new challenges with a few other moving into retirement. However Cyclo-cross remains at the heart of Adalta with new members coming through to join the ranks.
Moving forward new Cyclo-cross team captain Dan Weale has helped bolster the team. Serval new riders now see Adalta members racing across several age categories from junior to Vet 40s. The team is ever improving with some impressive results to show for their hard work. You can see the team in action both locally in the East Kent Cyclo-cross league and at a regional level racing in the London X League. With the National Trophy coming to Kent this October several riders have targeted this as their first steps onto the National scene.
At a beginner level cross is an easy sport to get into and no matter your fitness or skill level there will always be somebody to race against. With a short lap there is also plenty of opportunity to be spurred on by gathered supporters. Heckling from the side lines is always light hearted and supportive whilst between the tapes a level of comradery and respect is always shown between riders, this is especially shown at local races such as the East Kent League were the emphasis is always on having fun.
Courses are made up of a mixed terrain from technical wood land to the more traditional grassy fields that come mid-winter get churned into a bog that become quicker to run through than ride. Occasional gravel tracks and short glorious stretches of tarmac that are always well received break up these hard sections. Another staple of cross that breaks up the riding and can be found on most courses are sets of barriers/hurdles who most dismount and run whilst the fast guys bunny hop effortlessly. Then just when you thought the running was over a steep bank makes for a leg burning obstacle. Meanwhile the crowd favourite sand pits can be found on some course to really test a rider’s skill and strength levels.
All in all this makes cross a great discipline to try out in the competitive world of cycling. The main skills of dismounting and remounting can be practiced in a local park as well as cornering and bike handling skills. These can then translate easily over to the road, something you might be thankful for in a sticky situation whilst out on a casual ride or on the crit or road race circuit in the summer. Cross bikes can be picked up relatively cheaply second hand and also double as a great winter trainer with a simple change of tyres/wheels. Disc brakes are now the go to option and dominate the pro as well as amateur field but cantilevers are far from dead. If you cannot warrant a purpose built cross bike just yet a simple mountain bike will do the job at local events until your hooked on one of the greatest sports there is and invest in a cross bike.
If you are interested in giving it a go lots of useful information can be found at www.britishcycling.org.uk/cyclocross as well as information on local leagues at:
www.londonxleague.co.uk/ and www.facebook.com/eastkentcyclocross/
If you are interested in riding with Adalta CX or learning more about the CX team then please feel free to contact Dan Weale @ D.P.WEALE@kent.ac.uk.
Thanks to Sean Hardy for some of the pictures